Valvrave was one of the most divisive shows of the season after its first episode, with some fans proclaiming it the best show on the schedule and others hooting in outright derision. I suppose I fell somewhere in the middle, perhaps leaning towards the positive. The premiere wasn’t anything revelatory but I found it quite entertaining and rather handsomely done. So what of the second episode? I’d say my opinion is just about the same as it was.
Mecha anime is so deeply encoded in the DNA at Sunrise that it can be hard to tell just where earnestness ends and parody begins. Unlike Majestic Prince, which is very clearly presenting itself primarily as a satire of the mecha genre, I’m not entirely sure just how to take Valvrave. It’s quite silly, to be honest – but it isn’t above Sunrise to be that silly and still be playing it straight. But the silliness is working for me, and there’s just enough of a sense of whimsy to it that my gut tells me that the folks behind this show know what they’re doing, and they’re intentionally overplaying the cliche aspects in order to create both a sense of irony and a contrast with the wholly discordant Code Geass elements from writer Okouchi Ichiro. I’m not hoping this show turns into that one – I found CG a bit tiresome and never finished it – but the mixing of the two elements, a sort of Gundam/Geass hybrid, may just turn out to be a good thing.
An awful lot happened this week, so I won’t try to discuss all of it. L-Elf’s added bit of dialogue – “Lisolette” – in the opening sequence is obviously important. Just to cover bases, several cast members stepped out into prominence, starting with Rukino Saki (Tomatsu Haruka) who looked like she might be the sole female lead but now appears to be part of a full-fledged triangle (more shortly). Haruto’s pal Izuzuka Kyuuma (Ono Yuuki) got a few flash moments flying a chopper. Nakamura Yuuichi used his Grizzly-kun voice as school banchou Yamada Raizou. And the remaining members of the Drossian boy band got a few more lines for their all-star cast of seiyuu – Miyano Mamoru, Fukuyama Jun, Kaji Yuuki and Hosoya Yoshimasa. Frankly the lot of them are the most annoying part of the show – even for a series as campy as this one an alphabet-coded gang of junior SS bishounen is a bit much to take, and Fukuyama and Kaji especially are laying it on pretty thick.
As to the story itself, I find it pretty engaging both on the macro and micro level. It almost seems as if this is being set up as a kind of wish-fulfillment alternate history of WW II, where instead of the Nazis’ allies Japan was a fiercely independent freedom-fighting island full of brave resistance soldiers. Even the mobile suit looks a lot like a full suit of samurai armor, and comes complete with a katana and a harikiri power-up move when the heat sensor reaches the magic number of 666. Where the allied forces – “Atlantic Rim United States” – will fit into the historical wash will be interesting to see. It’s ARUS forces who show up and drive the Drossians away from JIOR, but we don’t get a chance to meet any of them.
On the micro side, our first major revelation is that when Haruto bit L-Elf’s neck, he somehow transferred his consciousness into his body via the bloodstream. Body-switching is an interesting twist I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and it leaves L-Elf rather puzzled when he wakes up. Saki is apparently a bit of a horror/sci-fi geek, and suggests that Haruto re-enact the moment he switched bodies in order to switch back – which he does (well, that was easy). With Haruto having hijacked the Valvrave and engaged the Drossian forces, this leaves L-Elf in the rather uncomfortable position of having his old bandmates trying to exact revenge for hit betrayal. We learn about the abilities of the Valvrave bit by bit – they’re obviously nowhere near fully revealed – but it seems that without the ARUS intervention it would have been a challenge for newbie Haruto to defeat the entire Drossian fleet even after the magical 666 moment.
The other big reveal of course was that Shouko isn’t dead after all – which is frankly a bit of an anti-climax considering how quickly and mundanely it happened. She was stuck underneath the rubble inside the car she was going to assist, with driver Takumi Kibuwaka (Hatano Wataru). I admit I laughed when she called Haruto during his battle – that’s excellent coverage, given that she was buried underground and he was in space. We get a pretty straightforward promise to return to her at any cost, and then a continuation of the Shrine confession when he does – except that Haruto, horrified at the monster he’s become (he certainly thinks nothing of shooting Drossian soldiers – and scientists – at point-blank range), chickens out at the last minute and turns the whole thing into a joke before fleeing into an alley to weep about his fate.
OK, that’s a lot to take, I admit. Check your credulity at the door if you want to have any chance to work with Valvrave – but if you’re a Sunrise fan surely you’re already used to doing that? I like this series for its all-in commitment to bombast and melodrama, and for its predominant use of hand-drawn animation over CG, even for the space battles. It has a nice look overall, and in the right frame of mind I can work with the concept – taking it as somewhere in-between a homage and a mild spoof of both Sunrise mecha shows and Code Geass. I don’t know if the alchemy will hold up over the long term, but for now I find Valvrave quite entertaining and I’m happy to stick with it.